What makes a work of art great is the ability to make you reflect on the work and think about how it applies to your own life and the world in which you live. Each person may have a different perspective on that piece of art. The piece conjures up an emotion in the person that consumes the art. Great art drives discussion among your peers about what you experienced and what that art meant to you.
The Gardens Between does just that. This game sucks you in – the music, artwork, and story - leave a strong impression on you long after the ending credits have finished. This is not a game; this is a work of art.
The Tip and The Top
The very first thing you’ll notice about The Gardens Between is how beautiful the game looks. The artwork and colors, the scenery where each puzzle takes place, and the animation of the characters, every detail is so beautifully done.
The musical score in this game is absolutely brilliant and pairs nicely with the art. The music sets the tone for the whole story, once this game starts up, you know something magical is about to occur.
And what is brilliant about this game is how the story is told –the story is told through the interaction of the two characters in the game with absolutely no dialog throughout the entire game. You see the friendship build over time throughout each stage.
The two characters that you play do have names (Arina and Frendt), however, their story and their journey quickly becomes your own – the ability to play on strong emotions and be relatable to the player is so powerful, and this is why this game is a masterpiece of art.
The game starts with the two characters in a tree house; a lightning storm occurs and pauses time, also creating a ball of light, which both characters touch. The characters are then taken to a dreamlike world with larger than life objects from their childhood. As the player, you control the characters to solve a puzzle in each level – and you use time bending mechanics (going forward, pausing, or reversing time) to solve the puzzles. Moving the joy-con stick left and right will either advance time or reverse time. Each character interacts differently with the environment. Arian carries a lantern, which captures and carries a ball of light. Frendt interacts with switches that will bend time and controls objects in the environment by bending time either forwards or backwards. The goal of each puzzle is to take the ball of light to the top of a mountain. The puzzles are not too difficult, but they do require creativity.
The genius behind each puzzle is how you are taught how to solve each one. You are shown some simple mechanic around how the time bending works or how to interact with objects in the environment, and that lesson then is used in more complicated puzzles. It is such a brilliant way to build upon your knowledge and without the game beating you over the head on how to play the game and solve each puzzle.
After each stage, you are shown short vignette of a time in the characters’ lives, and this vignette turns into a constellation in the sky, portraying that these events are important in their lives – a shared memory that seems bigger than they are, but yet so far away from them, just out of reach for them to hold on to.
As each stage progresses, you see their story unfold and the events that lead you to the final stage. The final moments will move you.
The Flip and The Flop
There is very little, if anything, to criticize about this game; the only thing you will want is more. However, the length of the story is perfectly timed and the ending is bittersweet.
Very few games are known to elicit emotions from the player like The Gardens Between. The story is beautifully told, the music sets the scene so perfectly, and the game mechanics are creative and fun to explore as you solve each puzzle. This game is a breath of fresh air, unique in the way the story is told and the way the game mechanics are taught to the player. After you finish this game, you will want to talk about your experience with others – and that is a sign of a true masterpiece.
Review code provided by The Voxel Agents